The long running superhero MMORPG City of Heroes has recently entered a new “comic age” with its second major expansion, City of Heroes: Going Rogue. In it, players are given the opportunity to explore the shades of gray between the pure heroism and villainy that has existed since the game’s launch in 2004 in the new city of Nova Praetoria. At PAX 2010 in Seattle it was announced that a slate of comic and genre professionals have been recruited to create original content for the game using the Mission Architect System that was implemented last year. Newsarama recently sat down with City of Heroes developer Paragon Studio’s Art Lead, David Nakayama to ask him about the expansion, the game’s future and about the competition from Marvel and DC that is on the way.
Newsarama:First, what is the Mission Architect System, and can anyone use it?
David Nakayama: The Mission Architect System is a way for players to create and write their own missions and post them for other players to enjoy. We give them the ability to choose their maps, their villains, create their own contacts, allies, who, and even create unique mobs for their missions. We’ve seen everyone from novelists, to online comic book artists, to our loyal fans create amazing content.
We have a quick tutorial for both Heroes and Villains to show them how the system works and then they can go in and create missions. Well-rated Missions can earn their creators recognition and other in-game awards depending on how well players rate it. If people are not interested in the creation portion of the system, they are welcome to find a mission and play it. These user-generated missions reward similar experience as regular missions do, and also provide other redeemable rewards for players to trade-in. Overall, the system is designed to reward the player with unique content, and the creator with recognition for taking the time to tell a comic book story for others to enjoy.
Nrama:What is the Guest Author program?
Nakayama: The Guest Author program, led by our own Sean ‘Dr. Aeon’ McCann, is one in which we invite writers or story designers to create missions for our Mission Architect system and we collaborate with them to get their “story” into the game. We’ve used some well-known industry heavyweights in the past such as Bill Willingham (Fables), Rooster Teeth (Red vs. Blue), Scott Kurtz (PvP), Austin Grossman (Soon I Will Be Invincible), Troy Hickman (Common Grounds), and Mercedes Lackey (Heralds of Valdemar). We don’t limit ourselves to game-industry writers, though, and are open to any creative genius within any genre who might like to participate!
Nrama:Are these custom missions considered canon within the City of Heroes universe?
Nakayama: We prefer not to leash players’ creativity so Mission Architect is a “virtual reality”, if you will, so while players are welcome to use the canon in City of Heroes, they’re not necessarily bound by it. They are bound to our mission maps and our villain groups, of course, but what they do with them is their decision. Some players’ stories are outside of canon, either because we’ve never introduced it or because it’s their own “take” on their version of lore.
Nrama:Do they provide in-game rewards and/or reward experience?
Nakayama: Players are, in fact, rewarded for their participation in both architecting and playing Mission Architect content. If they create missions, they receive acclaim and reputation which unlocks rewards that will give them more options in their mission creation. Players who are playing those Mission Architect arcs receive experience as they normally would, but they also have the option of rating amazing missions and giving credit to genius, thus potentially providing excellent Architects the potential to hit our Mission Architect Hall of Fame.
Enemies in Mission Architect provide regular experience, but instead of dropping ‘loot’, they drop Architect Tickets, which players can trade in for various rewards, including unlocking more content to use within Mission Architect. Each time an author receives a high rating, they receive a reward of Architect Tickets as well.
On a side note, Sean McCann is not only a several-time Dev Choice Architect, where we, the developers, choose missions in Mission Architect and give them our stamp of approval, but his work received so much attention at the studio that we brought him in for an interview, saw his genius, and hired him. He is now, interestingly enough, the Designer in charge of the Mission Architect System. He goes by “Dr. Aeon”, who is, lore-wise, the man behind Architect Entertainment.
Nrama:Are they balanced for all level characters?
Nakayama: Absolutely. Architects determine what level range their mission will be so when players choose to play a mission, they’re making an informed choice. If they team up in the Mission Architect mission, it works like our in-game missions do and populates appropriately for the team size. When creating custom characters, players also have the ability to hand pick powers and see what powers will give out the appropriate experience at certain levels. If a player wants to create characters meant for lower levels, they can see what powers would be appropriate for that level range and select them. Our custom power system will then tell them how much experience that critter will be worth. This allows players to have incredible customization with their enemies for any level range while also preventing this system from being abused.
Nrama:How do the rights issues work out?
Nakayama: As is typical of these sorts of services, any content created is held by Paragon Studios. This allows us to promote Guest Author content to all our players and to showcase the extremely creative work from our fans.
Nrama:Who do you have lined up so far as Guest Authors and how often will their missions become available?
Nakayama: Once a Guest Author writes a mission for Mission Architect, it’s always there. So players never have to worry about missing out on Scott Kurtz’s great arc, or Bill’s, or Mercedes’. As long as players are within the appropriate level range of the arc, they can play it. As to who we have lined up in the future, well, that’s a secret, but I can give you some hints: Ninjas are cool, heavenly empires abound, and glory at the awesome that is female sidekicks.
Nrama: Overall, how’s the reception of Going Rogue been from long time players?
Nakayama: Well, if I may be so bold, they are pretty darn jazzed about it. For example, well over half of our active characters since launch have taken part of the Alignment System and nearly three-quarters have created new Praetorian characters. We’ve had some great successes with this expansion and our veteran players are really excited about the content and being given a new universe to explore, in twenty shades of awesome, no less. It’s been a thrill to see all 15 of our servers at max capacity. We’re all very proud and excited.
Nrama: Both Marvel and DC comics' long in development MMOs (Super Hero Squad and DCU Online) are just now coming onto to the market, have you seen either of them and what do you think of them?
Paragon Studios: Everyone here at Paragon is quick to “check out the competition”, not only because we want to see what our competitors are working on, but also because we love playing games, so we get the best of both worlds. We have a huge cache of gamers here who love everything from pen and paper RPGs, to board games, to MMOs, to first-person shooters, to consoles. It just makes sense to keep up on what other games are doing in terms of approach, innovation, and gameplay. Of course we’re interested in what other games in our particular genre are doing, it’s direct competition, so we keep tabs, play them as we can, and educate ourselves in the process. Besides, as new MMOs come out, it has the potential to bring more players into the space so it’s always an opportunity for growing the market and check us out. Now that I think of it, does it get any better than that?
Nrama: How do you think they will be received by gamers?
Paragon Studios: I try not to be a fortune-teller when it comes to the success of other games other than to wish them well and see what I can learn from them as it relates to the game I’m concentrating on: City of Heroes. Competition is good because it forces us as a studio to continue thinking around corners, outside of boxes, and so on. But I will say this, we have six years of content and innovation behind City of Heroes and that is something only time and fantastic support (both from players and our publisher) can claim.Do you still play City of Heroes? Have you written any Missions?